The Best Defense

Out of China, into Africa: Tracking the ways of private Chinese investment

By Katherine Kidder

Best Defense office of Communist Chinese capitalist studies

China's growing role in Africa over the past decade-or-so has raised some eyebrows. Questions surrounding China's motives for investment abound: Are they purchasing U.N. votes? Simply extracting natural resources? Expanding the rhetoric of revolution, as it did in the 1960s?

Yet most of these questions presuppose state-led investment in Africa. Xiaofang Shen, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS China Studies Program and former investment climate specialist at the World Bank, said in a recent talk at SAIS that the more notable increase over the past decade has been the rise in Chinese private-sector investment on the continent.

Pre-2001, Chinese private investment in Africa was negligible; by the end of 2011, there were 879 private companies and OFDI projects registered with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Contrary to the image of state-led extraction, Chinese entrepreneurs focus their energies mainly on manufacturing and service industries. They increasingly are forging relationships with local management, and aware of the value of learning local customs, religions, and languages.

So, what does this mean for the West? Interestingly enough, Chinese private investment in Africa may be a hat tip to Western models of development and governance: Xiaofang Shen's study finds that going overseas to do business was much easier for up-and-coming Chinese entrepreneurs than starting a business in inland China.

Most of China's industry grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, with little-to-no regulation. By contrast, many African laws (at least on paper) were copied and/or imposed by the West through such mechanisms as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). As a result, Chinese entrepreneurs find African processes more conducive to business, from obtaining licenses and navigating the bureaucratic process to trusting that the food they eat for lunch is safe. African governments face higher incentives to improve infrastructure and devote resources to political stability and regulatory efficiency in order to attract capital -- precisely the same goals reflected in SAPs.


The Best Defense

My questions about the Vietnam War: I suspect there is a lot more to say about it

For a symposium put on recently by FPRI, I drew up a list of questions I have about the Vietnam War. Here they are:

  • How much new information about the war is coming out? Is there more to come? How is it changing what we thought we knew? There has been a lot out of North Vietnam over the last 20 years. So far, as one person at the symposium said, it is as if our histories of the war were written by Custer.   
  • Second, to what extent do these new revelations challenge our basic assumptions about the war? For example, we often used firepower lavishly in Vietnam. But what do enemy accounts and documents tell us about our use of firepower? How much empty jungle did we kill? How many civilians did we turn against us?  
  • That leads to a broader question. There is an assumption that for much of the war, we were good tactically. Were we? 
  • When Westmoreland said "counterinsurgency," what did he mean? He said he meant "firepower." I see some historians these days waving memoranda they've found saying Westy wanted COIN, and assume he didn't mean that. Such an approach strikes me as a bit lacking in skepticism. Here's a surprise: Government documents do not always reflect the truth, or even what the author really meant. Officials sometimes have other purposes -- to set up a straw man, to record a dissent, to show they are complying when they really are not, or perhaps to cover someone's butt. Just as oral histories have problems, so do smoking gun documents.   
  • Generally, can we learn more about what worked and what didn't? I think Mark Moyar is on to something. I was struck, for example, that the Vietnamese army's official history of the war concedes that the strategy of the imperialists and the puppets worked very well in 1968 and 1969. Rice taxes on the peasants were cut off, Viet Cong lived near starvation, and recruiting went way down. Why were we unable to take better advantage of those developments? So the other shoe for me is: How bad were U.S. forces in that period? And how inept were some commanders in the field that they could not push on that open door?
  • Related: Were enemy forces just lying low in 1969 and 1970, waiting for the politics of the thing to work out?

Finally, some other, broader questions:

  • Wade Markel wrote that in Vietnam, we developed "an Army that avoided error rather than exploited opportunity." Is that correct? If so, how and when did it happen?   
  • Was Vietnam a flawed strategy or poor operational execution? Or both?
  • Last question: Is the military today telling itself a tale similar to the one it told itself after the Vietnam War, that basically it did everything right but the civilians screwed it up?

National Archives